My most Italian Christmas tradition: Torcetti

Mary (Arcuri) Sanders, at age 77

My Italian grandma, born Mary Nancy Arcuri, was a great cook. She lived into her 90s, and now her many dozens of descendants like to share “Gram’s recipe” for various foods we associate with her. Somehow, though, each of her seven kids has a different version of “Gram’s recipe” for spaghetti sauce, each claiming to be authentic, and the rest charlatans.

At Christmas, Gram always made torcetti (tor-chet-ee). The lightly sweetened pastry was rolled in powdered sugar, shaped in figure 8s or candy canes, or folded into little half-moon turnovers filled with mince or cherry pie filling. I always imagine her learning to make it at her mother’s side, in Italian–the only language her mother spoke. Gram came from a big family, and it is a big recipe–I have penciled in on my recipe card a smaller version, one-fourth of the original recipe. But for you, readers, I am providing the full meal deal, the recipe for 12 dozen torcetti. Enough to share with lots of friends!


1 lb. butter or margerine

1 lb. vegetable shortning

10 cups sifted flour

1 cup warm milk

1 T. granulated sugar

1 T. vanilla

2 pkgs. yeast

4 eggs, beaten

2 lbs. powdered sugar

Cut shortning and butter into flour until it is like corn meal. Combine milk, granulated sugar, vanilla, and stir in yeast. Add liquid to flour mixture. Add eggs and beat. Add more flour if sticky. Knead slightly. Put in a greased bowl, cover in a warm place, and let rise until double in bulk, about one hour. {I must tell you, this is a heavy dough, and has rarely doubled its bulk for me!}

Cover a bread board with some of the powdered sugar. Break off egg-size pieces of the dough, roll in powdered sugar into one long piece, and shape into figures–pretzel, figure 8, knots, candy canes. Bake on a greased sheet 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees. For filled turnovers, roll out dough, sprinking with powdered sugar if sticky, and use a cookie cutter or water glass to make 3″ circles. Fill with a spoonful of your favorite fruit pie filling, fold in half, and seal by pressing a fork along the edge.

If you try Torcetti from Gram’s recipe, I’d love to hear from you. And do you have an Italian Christmas food you love? Let’s hear about it!